Phenobarbital treatment has been observed to be negatively associated with bladder cancer risk in a few studies. It has been suggested that phenobarbital may induce drug-metabolizing enzymes that detoxify the bladder carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. We examined the relationship of barbiturate use to bladder cancer risk and the potential modifying effect of cigarette smoking in a large cohort of Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program members with computerized pharmacy prescriptions and smoking information. Newly diagnosed bladder cancers were identified among individuals in the study cohort by linkage with data from cancer registries. The overall standardized incidence ratio associated with barbiturate use was 0.71 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.51-0.99]. Among current smokers, former smokers, and never smokers, the standardized incidence ratios were 0.56 (95% CI, 0.23-1.16), 0.68 (95% CI, 0.27-1.40), and 1.04 (95% CI, 0.48-1.98), respectively. Although our estimates were imprecise, the finding of an inverse association between barbiturate treatment and bladder cancer risk only among current and former cigarette smokers is consistent with the hypothesis that treatment with these medications induces drug-metabolizing enzymes that deactivate bladder carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

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